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Literary awards season heats up with $50,000 Kirkus Prize finalists

Literary awards season heats up with $50,000 Kirkus Prize finalists
Ling Ma's "Severance" is a finalist for the $50,000 Kirkus Prize. (Anjali Pinto)

Kirkus Reviews revealed the finalists Tuesday for its fifth annual Kirkus Prizes, naming eighteen books spanning three categories.

The awards, which come with cash prizes of $50,000, are among the newest and most lucrative literary awards in the United States. They are given out in three categories: fiction, nonfiction and young readers' literature.

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The six finalists for the fiction prize this year include two books that also made the longlist for the National Book Award: Lauren Groff's "Florida" (read The Times’ review) and Nafissa Thompson-Spires' "Heads of the Colored People." Both are collections of short stories.

Other finalists include San Francisco author Katie Williams for "Tell the Machine Goodnight" and Ling Ma for "Severance." Ma spoke to The Times about her post-apocalyptic satire in August.

Rounding out the list are two surprise picks: Naima Coster for her novel "Halsey Street" and Eduardo Halfon for his book "Mourning," which was published by the small, independent Bellevue Literary Press.

The announcement of the finalists comes during a busy month for literary awards. Earlier in September, the National Book Awards revealed its longlists in five categories and the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize was announced.

Two of the nonfiction books on the Kirkus shortlist have also been nominated for this year's National Book Awards: Rebecca Solnit's "Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)" and Sarah Smarsh's "Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth."

Other nonfiction finalists include "Heavy: An American Memoir" by Kiese Laymon, "American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment" by Shane Bauer, Beth Macy's "Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America" and Timothy Snyder's "The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America."

The young readers' literature category is divided into three subcategories: picture books, middle grade and young adult, with two books nominated in each. Only one of the six books will win the $50,000 prize.

The contenders in the picture books subcategory are "Crown," written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James, and "Dreamers" by Yuyi Morales.

The middle-grade books that made the cut are "Merci Suárez Changes Gears" by Meg Medina and "Harbor Me" by Jacqueline Woodson, the celebrated author who serves as the Library of Congress' National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

Rounding out the young readers' literature shortlist are two young-adult novels: Elizabeth Acevedo's "The Poet X" and Tomi Adeyemi's "Children of Blood and Bone." Acevedo's book also appeared on this year's National Book Award longlist, while San Diego author Adeyemi's novel was the inaugural pick for Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show" book club.

The winners of this year's Kirkus Prizes will be announced on Oct. 25 at a ceremony in Austin, Texas. A full list of this year's finalists is below.

FICTION:

"Halsey Street" by Naima Coster (Little A)

"Florida" by Lauren Groff (Riverhead)

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"Mourning" by Eduardo Halfon (Bellevue Literary Press)

"Severance" by Ling Ma (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

"Heads of the Colored People" by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (37 Ink/Atria)

"Tell the Machine Goodnight" by Katie Williams (Riverhead)

NONFICTION:

"The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America" by Timothy Snyder (Tim Duggan Books/Crown)

"Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America" by Beth Macy (Little, Brown)

"American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment" by Shane Bauer (The Penguin Press)

"Heavy: An American Memoir" by Kiese Laymon (Scribner)

"Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)" by Rebecca Solnit (Haymarket)

"Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth" by Sarah Smarsh (Scribner)

YOUNG READERS' LITERATURE:

Picture Books:

"Crown" by Derrick Barnes, illustrator Gordon C. James (Bolden/Agate)

"Dreamers" by Yuyi Morales (Neal Porter/Holiday House)

Middle Grade:

"Merci Suárez Changes Gears" by Meg Medina (Candlewick)

"Harbor Me" by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin)

Young Adult:

"The Poet X" by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen)

"Children of Blood and Bone" by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt/Macmillan)

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